It Won’t Be Like This All the Time is a deeply inventive album.
Scotland’s the Twilight Sad returns with its fifth full-length album and first without drummer Mark Devine, who left the group in early 2018. It’s also the outfit’s first record for Mogwai’s Rock Action Records. Whatever the inspirations and machinations that went into making the record, the result is an angry, taut collection of songs that would sit nicely alongside some of the best post-punk albums of the genre’s classic era.
There’s a heavy sense of foreboding throughout, sometimes heavier than others. “The Arbor,” for instance, weaves its spell like something culled from either the Cure’s Pornography or Faith and perhaps that’s not by accident. The Twilight Sad has done a number of dates with the veteran act in recent years. The tune’s bass line (courtesy of Johnny Docherty) sounds like classic Simon Gallup, propulsive and melodic, inventive and heart-stopping while James Graham’s vocal performance is easily one of the most exhilarating across the whole record. It serves as a reminder that singing is just as often about creating a character, eliciting an emotional response from the listener in the way an actor might as it is about hitting the correct pitches.
The emotional charges here are remarkable and consistent. Though perhaps it’s best not to guess at exactly what Graham’s inspirations were, there are hints at the desire to hold up emotional roadblocks in intimate relationships, such as in “I/m Not Here [missing face],” one this set’s best tracks. There, as happens so often in the Twilight Sad’s best music, Graham delivers the words with the perfect balance of restraint and abandon, giving a performance that is as exciting as it is chilling. Meanwhile keyboardist Brendan Smith layers a variety of synth sounds that accentuate the piece’s emotional angst while never overplaying the emotions.
Guitarist Andy MacFarlane adds his shares of deft layers throughout, especially on “Auge_Maschine,” a loud, blazing number that seems tailor made for coming to life in large concert venues. But there, as elsewhere on this collection, MacFarlane is more notable for what he doesn’t play than what he does. Like Graham, he plays with the notions of restraint and release, ultimately creating a wall of noise that leaves the listener spent while, alternately, wanting to take the whole ride all over again.
“Keep It All to Myself” is a relatively slender and straightforward number that almost feels like a pop single at times, though it cloaks itself in enough intensity and a sense of the strange that it would be hard to miss the storm brewing underneath even the most accessible moments. “Girl Chewing Gum,” meanwhile, is almost anthemic compared to some of the record’s earliest tunes but it, too, avoids going to the easy places and instead creates something we can return to for some time to come, attempting to pry its deepest secrets free.
MacFarlane, who produced the record, has given listeners plenty of clever touches to appreciate throughout, and those elements come to light over repeated listens. The Twilight Sad has been a band to provide its audience with a few good songs and then loads of filler, and that tradition continues here with a tracklist that is consistent in terms of exceptional musicality and impact.
Though the influence of classic post-punk, goth and the various strains of music Brian Eno’s had a hand in across the decades occasionally shine their way through, there is something novel about this band, something that transcends its easy slotting in a particular genre or moment in time. It Won’t Be Like This All the Time is a deeply inventive album from a deeply engaging, entertaining and original band. Though their sound is a nod to the past, the Twilight Sad might just inspire its own new crop of imitators.